Age of Cosmic Exploration – Chapter 7

Night mode

Code Name: NOAH! (2)

 

About two hundred small spheres rolled out from the four surfaces of their surroundings, each the size of a small fist. On each of their very tip blinked what would appear to be a pair of electronic eyes. Thin metallic wings adorned those eyes, giving the spheres the function of flight. Each of them emitted a continuous refrain of “Hello”, not unlike the recorded greetings from service calls.

 

Under the circumstances though, the sing-songy chorus of Hello’s had everyone’s blood frozen!

 

Luckily, these small ball-like drones moved surprisingly slow and were unexpectedly fragile. Before they could even launch an offensive, more than half of them had already perished under a hail of the bullet storm. What was unlucky though was that every single one of them packed a devastating punch.

 

Under those eyes, were a needle-sized hole, and sparks flew all over the place as shots were discharged from within at lightning speed. Three persons at the foremost were hit with a series of bullets but they were undeterred for fact was the shots hurt nothing more than a pin-prick. Not a moment later though, what was seconds ago three full-bodied men burst and rained down in a slew of flesh and blood. With the exception of one, one could barely identify the other two sets of remains as pieces of human body parts.

 

“Damn! These are electro-magnetized bullets!”

 

Watching three of his comrades fall, Yao Yuan felt an acute pain slice through his heart but there wasn’t time for grief.  Without a moment’s notice, he let loose a hand grenade and shouted, “Seek cover people! Be careful! These are electro-magnetized bullets, one hit and you’re gone!”

 

Heeding his advice, the rest of his squad quickly flattened themselves onto the ground, minimizing their rate of exposure. Then, anything and everything nearby, be it body parts or machine parts, were gathered before each to be used as a shield.

 

Electro-magnetized bullets were by then a recently minted type of ammunition. It was similar in design to the earlier Dum-Dum Bullets1 but was much more powerful, especially in terms of lethality. Created as a byproduct in a new Gauss Rifle2 research, these bullets could be fired at an incredibly fast speed, and because of that had good penetration. Once it came into contact with a hard target, which normally would be the bones in the human body, the electromagnetic casing would convert the interrupted kinetic energy into a pressurized magnetic push, which as one would expect, if happened within the body is extremely fatal.

 

Being hit by those bullets was like being injected with an orb of highly pressurized air. The impact point would expand and eventually burst, as the air within sought release. Its power was not unlike that of an anti-material rifle3, they are so powerful that victims of these guns usually won’t be left with a full corpse.

 

However, these bullets have a fatal flaw: their power is concentrated on their initial target. In other words, one would be safe if one is not hit by it directly.

 

And that was how the rest of Yao Yuan’s team survived the onslaught. While the human shields were repeatedly minced, the rest was relatively safe behind cover. The grenade that Yao Yuan lobbed off managed to give Ebon and his assault coordinate the opening necessary to clear up the rest of the drones. When they finally had the chance to take a breather, the floor was littered with shattered pieces of drone parts and thousands of empty artillery casings. As the chorus of robotic Hello’s fell silent, it was replaced by Lee’s sorrowful wailings. Still not completely inured to life on the battlefield due to his lack of experience, Lee broke down before the three died members’ sorry remains. Echoing across the corridor was his cries and their names.

 

The trio were all part of the scout’s unit, they were Lee’s close partners. Their sudden deaths were too unbearable for his young heart.

 

Yao Yuan squatted down beside Lee with a sigh. As he retrieved three dog-tags from the remains, he uttered, “Dear comrades, it has been a tiring journey, you all deserve this rest… Don’t you worry, we shall finish the rest on your behalf.” When he stood up and walked off, there was neither sorrow nor pain. None managed to notice though that under his bloody hands, the knuckles that gripped those tags had gone completely white from grabbing them too hard.

 

As the rest moved to console Lee, the alarm suddenly sounded. Everyone immediately went into action. As the walls before them folded upon themselves, about ten mechanical spiders each half an inch in diameter came skittering out.

 

“Fire! And don’t save those grenades…” Yao Yuan yelled in between shots, “Zhang Heng, what’s the matter? Did the hacking fail?”

 

Without taking his eyes of the monitor, despite his body shaking all over , Zhang Heng answered in a voice that’s clearest it has ever been, “Nothing’s the matter! I’ve cracked the password’s first layer of  defense, the base is responding to this breach!”

 

“Christ! How many layers are there?” Yao Yuan growled as he let loose another grenade.

 

“I’ve passed the first one! Counting the current one, there’s still two more…” Zhang Heng replied as his fingers flew over the keyboard.

 

Yao Yuan released yet another grenade, this time in tandem with an angry “Fuck!”. A few other members followed his lead but before those explosives could hit their target, they were detonated in mid-air following a sudden blinding flash of light. Nearest to the waves of explosions was Lee, followed by Yao Yuan who was flung a few meters back through the air. As he was tossed back upon the ground, there was incessant drumming in his ears, and his body felt like it had just been shattered into pieces.

 

(This… This is… laser…)

 

Yao Yuan tried to pick himself up but his body was for some reason out of his control. The explosive wave had actually concussed his brain, depriving him of basic motor skills. His anxiety was palpable but despite his best intentions to speak, all sounds were caught in his throat.

 

At this moment, while fire blazed around him, Yao Yuan felt himself being dropped into a pool of serenity as the world gradually went silent. It was a faintly familiar sensation, reminding him of a training experience he once had in a space station somewhere…

 

“Wong, we’re dealing with lasers here. Based on the size of those spiders, their storage of energy can’t be unlimited. Keep throwing those grenades, it doesn’t matter they don’t detonate on target, the aim is to exhaust the power source inside those spiders…”

 

Guang Zhen heard this order just as he was going to release another round of bullets. He could recognize it as Yao Yuan’s, instantly, he switched out for grenades and ordered, “Keep throwing those grenades! Everyone stop firing! Use explosives!”

 

The order made them pause, for it had just been shown, grenades would only get blown up in mid-air; it was of no use. However, over the years, they’ve learnt to not question the orders of their leader, and so subconsciously, everyone reached for their grenades and let them fly. Most of them were indeed discharged during their initial arc through the air. Following the blast, two other members who were at the foremost, crumbled to their knees and died.

 

At this point, it would seem like the team was just wasting their stores of grenades. Nevertheless, Guang Zhen didn’t let up, he ordered the team to keep on going. As they were going to run out of bombs, one finally dropped amidst the drones and went off with a resounding boom. As the smoke and ember cleared, what was left were the fractured remnants of all the mechanical spiders.

 

After two life-threatening battles, those that remained could barely hold themselves upright. As they slumped to the ground, they solemnly regarded their captain with utmost respect to which Guang Zhen rejected by replying, “Ol’ Cap’n, your reaction and analysis are still so impressive. Thankfully, we have you on our side. Otherwise, we would have been exterminated by that group of spidery drones by now.”

 

At this moment, Yao Yuan shakily stood. His balance was still seriously unhinged, in his eyes, the room seemed to be swerving on its own. He responded with a dry chuckle. The fact was, he still hadn’t rediscovered his ability to speak.

 

Another three deaths were mourned in silence. These were all comrades that had been through hell and back together, their loss was deeply felt.

 

Struggling with his body, Yao Yuan collected two more tags. As he moved towards the middle of the carnage, he suddenly bellowed, “Xiao Bai4! I need your over here quick!”

 

The guy with the loped off ear was caught off guard by the sudden order but that was quickly transformed into joy. He rushed ahead with his medical bag, and managed to ascertain that even though Lee was covered in shrapnel and lying in a pool of blood, he still had a breath left. Blood loss was severe, and many of his organs were traumatized by multiple blast force but he was indeed still breathing. Xiao Bai quickly gave him a shot of painkillers and rattled off a series of orders, “Quick! Get two men here! Carry him off to the back for me! He needs a blood transfusion stat! Clear some space!”

 

It wasn’t a task that requires two persons after all, since right after Xiao Bai yelled his directions, Ebon charged ahead and swept Lee in his arms. Within a few large steps, he reached Zhang Heng’s side and glancing at the hacker, he laid Lee carefully down on the ground. Xiao Bai followed closely behind and immediately conducted an emergency rescue operation.

 

Out of the blue, a third alarm sounded off. The floor of the corridor opened up before everyone’s eyes, revealing seven or eight strange looking robots. Their upper body was humanoid with the exception of the arms which were fitted with machine guns while their lower half were swapped out for tank tracks. Weirdest was their torso which was a honeycomb shaped contraption. Yao Yuan’s team guessed these were probably openings for missiles.

 

Each of these automatons was two meters in height and they looked sturdy enough to withstand normal gunfire.

 

The sight of them filled Yao Yuan’s team with despair. Out of nowhere, a shot was heard, hitting one of the automaton right in its torso. A second later, it exploded in a fiery combustion; the radiating heat waves could be felt by everyone even though they stood hundreds of miles away.

 

Ying roared, “Have the rest of the sharpshooters gone dumb? Those hexagonal holes on their chests are natural targets! So pick one! Come on people! Let’s score some holes in one!”

 

Just like that, two more marksmen set down their scope and started firing. Not within ten seconds, even before any of the drones could return fire, all of them had fallen in piles of scraps. The base’s third wave of defense was surprisingly weak.  

 

Or that was what they hoped… Because right then, the floor opened again. And another troop appeared to replace the one before it. Even with everyone else joining in, the cycle seemed to infinitely repeat itself until the three marksmen started to show unusual signs of panic.

 

“How it’s going over there, Zhang Heng? We can’t hold them off any longer!” Yao Yuan asked for an update, as he rushed to Zhang Heng’s side.

 

Panic was similarly written all over Zhang Heng’s face. Based on the sound of tank tracks and gunshots that were slowly closing in, without prying his eyes from the screen, he knew time was ticking. “This is a new kind of encryption that I’ve not encountered before. It’s something that’s brand new, something that’s controlled by AI, instead of your lock-and-key hacking technique, it’s like you’re trying to win a game of chess against the computer with him learning to adopt and adapt to your every move… Argh! I don’t know how to explain to you! The long and short is that he’s asking for some kind of code but I have not seen this code referenced anywhere before!”

 

From behind them came Ying’s request of help, “Damn it! I’m out of ammo! Assistance! Xiao Bai, move it and toss me some ammo!”

 

Without the head sniper’s cover, the team started to lose their ground as more and more drones glided towards them through the explosion and smog. Before long, the drones lifted their machine-gun arms and had their target locked on. As they were prepared to fire…

 

“NOAH! IT’s NOAH!”

 

Without thinking about it, Yao Yuan yelled that at Zhang Heng. For some reasons unknown even to himself, he felt compelled to let that be known.

 

That gave Zhang Heng a pause, who turned to ask, “What Noah?”

 

“N-O-A-H! NOAH! THE CODE NAME IS NOAH!” Yao Yuan screamed at the top of his lungs.

 

Without much choice left, Zhang Heng keyed in the code. And just like that, the earsplitting sirens went mute and the drones which were in the cusp of firing froze on the spot, all semblance of power draining away.

 

On the other side, behind Yao Yuan’s team, the cogs inside that giant metallic door started to turn. As the mechanism ticked into place, an opening slowly unveiled itself. It was after seven barriers had lifted themselves that a full path would appear. Yao Yuan’s team ushered themselves through the door that was itself almost ten meters long before appearing on the other side where…

 

A conical shaped spacecraft the size of a small hill awaited them!

(Author’s note: This is a 4k update! So please do support this new book because your support is my motivation.)

______________________________________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. Also known as the expanding bullet. Invented by the British forces in the nineteenth century, it’s a type of hollow shell which expands and explodes upon contact. The name Dum-dum comes from its main ordnance factory located at Dum Dum, India.
  2. Also known as a coilgun. A type of projectile accelerator that is used to fire high-velocity bullets. The name Gauss refers to Carl Gauss who wrote the mathematical formula for magnetic effect in magnetic accelerators.
  3. A high military grade weapon. Main purpose is for disabling siege machines. Design is inspired by World War 1 Anti-tank rifle.
  4. Name for the man with the loped off ear. Literal translation of the Chinese name given to him is Little () White. The term () or xiao is often used together with a name as an endearing nickname for someone younger than the speaker.

 

Previous                     Home                            Next